Some facts about glyphosate
- Glyphosate is an active substance used in plant protection products to control plants, which means it's a herbicide
- Glyphosate is the most frequently used herbicide both worldwide and in the EU and it has been used for several decades
- Glyphosate has been thoroughly assessed by Member States and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in recent years
- Glyphosate-based pesticides are used as herbicides in agriculture, horticulture and in some non-cultivated areas
- They are used primarily to combat weeds that compete with cultivated crops or present problems for other reasons (e.g. on railway tracks)
- They are typically applied before crops are sown to control weeds and therefore facilitate better growth of crops by eliminating competing plants
- This eliminates or minimises the need to use ploughing machines ("zero tillage" farming), thereby reducing soil erosion and carbon emissions
- Glyphosate is also used to a lesser extent as a pre-harvest treatment to facilitate better harvesting by regulating plant growth and ripening
Current status of glyphosate in the EU
Glyphosate has been thoroughly assessed by Member States, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) - to establish whether its use results in any unacceptable effects on human and animal health or the environment.
- 2002: following such an assessment, glyphosate was first approved according to EU rules on pesticides. Before this time it was authorised for use in Member States according to national rules in place at the time.
- Between 2012 and 2015: a comprehensive scientific assessment was carried out by the Member States and EFSA according to the rules for renewal of active substance approvals to confirm that glyphosate complies with the new approval criteria laid down in the 2009 EU pesticides legislation, taking into account the latest scientific and technical knowledge. EFSA published its conclusion – that "glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans" - following this assessment in October 2015.
- Early 2016: the Commission proposed to the Member States to renew the approval of glyphosate but there was insufficient support either in favour or against the proposal. Given the diverging opinions between the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC, an agency of the World Health Organization) and EFSA on the potential carcinogenicity of glyphosate, it was considered appropriate to ask the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to assess the hazard properties of the substance before taking a decision on its potential renewal at EU level.
- 29 June 2016: the Commission called for a vote on the renewal proposal, but no majority of Member States either supported or opposed the renewal. The Commission then adopted an extension of the approval of glyphosate for a limited period to allow the European Chemicals Agency to conduct its assessment of the potential carcinogenicity of glyphosate.
This extension was limited to 6 months after the receipt of the European Chemicals Agency's opinion or 31 December 2017 at the latest.
Member States also voted in favour of amending the conditions of the existing approval of glyphosate in July 2016, adding further restrictions to ensure the highest safety standards for humans and the environment.
The Commission's decision established three conditions for further use of glyphosate in the Member States, as the actual decisions concerning the authorisation of plant protection products containing approved substances for use in their territories are the responsibility of Member States:
- Ban a dangerous co-formulant called POE-tallowamine from glyphosate-based products
- Minimise the use in public spaces, such as parks, public playgrounds and gardens
- Scrutinise the pre-harvest use of glyphosate
The European Chemicals Agency sent its opinion to the European Commission on 15 June 2017. Therefore, the current approval of glyphosate expires on 15 December 2017.
European Chemicals Agency's conclusions
On 15 March 2017, the Risk Assessment Committee (RAC) of the European Chemicals Agency concluded by consensus that:
- There is no evidence to link glyphosate to cancer in humans, based on the available information
- Glyphosate should not be classified as a substance that causes genetic damage (mutagen) or disrupts reproduction.
The same conclusion was also reached by the following organisations:
- European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), supported by experts from 27 EU Member State competent authorities
- National authorities outside the EU (e.g. Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand)
- Joint Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – World Health Organisation Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR)
The International Agency for Research on Cancer remains, therefore, the only agency with a divergent view.
Commission's current proposal to the Member States
On 16 May 2017 the Commission agreed that the discussions with the Member States about the possible renewal of the approval of glyphosate could restart.
The Commission is proposing a renewal of the approval of glyphosate for 10 years. It is now up to the Member States to decide on the Commission's proposal. After the possible renewal of the approval of glyphosate, Member States are actually responsible for the authorisation of plant protection products containing glyphosate (e.g. Roundup).
On 20 July 2017 the Commission restarted the discussions with Member States. The objective is to have them finalised in autumn before proceeding to vote. The proposal put forward by the Commission includes:
- Specific provisions that Member States have to take into account when considering applications for glyphosate-based products, namely:
- protection of groundwater
- protection of terrestrial animals and non-target plants
- Certain elements that Member States must ensure during assessment and decision making for authorisation (e.g. use in public areas should be minimised)
- The ban of POE-tallowamine (a 'co-formulant' that was previously used in glyphosate-based products) that was put in place in 2016
European Citizens' Initiative on glyphosate
On 25 January 2017 the Commission registered the European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) entitled "Ban glyphosate and protect people and the environment from toxic pesticides".
The Commission is aware that the initiative has reached the one million signatures threshold required for such an initiative.
Once the signatures have been verified by Member States the organisers can formally submit the ECI to the Commission who will then have 3 months to reply to it.